Truth be told, I get a lot of CDs that funnel in and out of my office. Some I eagerly anticipate–like, I’m still waiting for the Ghetto Youths to release an album (And yes, at this point I am not holding my breath!) Some CDs get passed along to more worthy reviewers, who happen to be oldies aficionados, dub heads, world fusion enthusiasts or electronic experimenters. And yes, some CDs just sit there in a tub as I look at them from the corner of my eye, wondering if I have the time to listen to the home-produced CDs that are accompanied with all the optimism in the world, and a quick Polaroid head shot.
However, it isn’t any of these CDs that I am going to write about. The albums below are ones that surprised the heck out of me. They’re the ones that live in my CD player AND my car player. They’re the ones that I tell all of my friends about, the ones that reach in, grab my heart, shake it up a bit, and connect me with that aliveness that I only feel when the bass is ripping through the floor. Yes, these are the CDs that will be remembered–maybe not in a general mainstream way–but in a wow-my-eyes-have-been-opened way. I hope you find these albums as worthwhile as I do.
Jah Mason, Most Royal [Jah Warrior Records, 2004]
Jah Mason sings, “This ain’t no joke. This is something we’ve got to talk about.” I agree–this album is definitely something we’ve got to talk about.
It had been awhile since I had heard anything from Jah Mason before this album was released. He was always recording on the latest rhythms in Jamaica, and I could always find 7 inch singles that he put out down there on the Henfield label, among others, but he lived on the edge of common reggae vocabulary in the States.
The beauty of this album is two-fold. First, Jah Warrior does an absolutely amazing job producing and mixing this album–the backing dubs soften up Mason’s gruff delivery–they use horns, keyboards, bass, drums. Not only do they use them, they use them smartly–where it actually makes musical sense. Softer lyrics couple with decrescendos, and stronger lyrics get mirrored musically as well. The sound is contemporary and melodic. I equate it with St. Croix’s Midnite Band’s sound in that just as Midnite’s music has a timeless quality, so does Jah Mason’s. The songs on “Most Royal” all have a lilting tempo that is calming over his rapid lyrics.
Second, Jah Mason’s sincerity comes across in most every lyric. There is a sense that this is absolutely authentically who he is. He’s not making music to make hits. He has a message and so clearly wants to get it out there. His lyrics are articulated so every syllable comes through, “Can you feel the pain that I feel inside? Life is a survival game, you better live it right.” The Bobo dread has a truly universal message. He covers self-empowerment: “You’ve got to know yourself;” Love: “Girl it’s been so long you have me waiting–it seems like you wanna give rastaman some rating;” The perils of Babylon; War; and faith.
Track highlights include “They Say They Love Us,” the title track, “Most Royal,” “So Long,” “Request,” “Saga” and “No Joke.” Kudos to the musicians who make this album as strong as it is.
Jah Mason is “Most Royal” on this recording. I hope he continues to say good things to the people.
[This CD is available at http://reggaemusicstore.com]
Sizzla, Speak of Jah [BogalUSA Records, 2004]
Could Sizzla, like wine, get better with age? A resounding, “YES!,” in my opinion. I would buy this album for the title track alone. But there is no bad seed in this bunch. As Sizzla loosens up–accepts himself and others in a more open way–his music gets better and better.
A producer friend of mine who works closely with Sizzla had an advanced copy of this album when I was in Jamaica back in February, and it was the soundtrack to my trip. I could compare it to “Da Real Thing” (VP Records), which I adored. I could also compare it to “Rise to the Ocassion” (Greensleeves Records) which I similarly adored, but this album has a completely different vibe than both of those recent albums. The thread that remains is Sizzla’s authenticity, his delivery, and his lyrics.
Take track 1, “Fight Against the Youth,”: “No matter how them fight against the youth, they just keep on striving, Rastafari is the truth. Nothing they can do to stop the love that is the root.”
Track 4, “Speak of Jah”: Sizzla with only an acoustic guitar “Put your trust in Jah, he’ll see you through. Like the stars above that shine so bright–that is how Jah love makes me feel inside… Jah love is all we have.”
Track 5, “Somehow”: “Cause somehow Jah Jah just keep on blessing this place. Somehow Rastafari just keep on showing us His face… Life is for love, life is for living–the blessings from above is so much I keep giving–He created the earth, so let’s just enjoy it. Praise Selassie and don’t destroy it!”
Track 7 “Vision”: “Your love makes me so strong; I’ll be with you all night long… Just like visions bight and clear, I can see that we’re getting there… I’ll be there for you all the way…”
Not to stray too far from his previous life, Sizzla gives us a repatriation song, “Dem Ago Suffer,” as well as a girl tune, “The Girls Dem.”
Some of the same qualities that appeal to me in the Jah Mason album, appeal to me here. Sizzla is heartfelt, the arrangements are strong and at times, unusual, and he’s really melodic. These are songs that you could sing in the shower–in fact, I have been known to sing “Jah looooove is all we have, Jah looooooove is all we have” under the running water to many a neighbor’s dismay.
All of the tracks were voiced at Anchor studio, Bobby Digital’s studio, and Kingston 6 studio, except the title track which was voiced at Sizzla’s own studio.
I think I’ve gushed enough. Buy the album–you won’t regret it.
Sabbattical Ahdah, Heart Ah Joy [Cruzian Links, 2003]
Something bizarre is happening on the little island of St. Croix. All of a sudden there is a huge reggae renaissance on that US Virgin Island with artists Midnite, Ikhaba, Dezarie, Bobo Ites and… Sabbattical Ahdah.
Sabbat, as he is reffered to by those close to him, is a young, conscious artist, who is just cultivating his lyrical prowess. Soon he will be a master, I have no doubt.
I heard a blip of his music a few months ago, and it was one of those moments, where everything else faded into the background, “I NEED TO HEAR THAT AGAIN!” Soonafter, I got my wish when he performed at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in June. The time slot was an obstacle–performing in the dancehall over tracks sandwiched between Jah Warrior Shelter Hi-Fi and Stone Love. My friends were honest, “I don’t know what you’re taking about. We’re not feeling him AT ALL.” Yeah, they were waiting for Stone Love to come with some big ‘Pon the River, Pon the Bank’ action that would put Jah Warrior’s taunting to rest. So, seeing as my two friends were hostages in my car on the three-hour ride home, I put the Sabbat CD in the player…
“What ah joy,” sings Sabbattical… congo drums, flutes, strong beats, women volcalists in the background, all flowing melodiously through the speakers. I witnessed a few head bobs, some “a’ights.” After track 4, I said, “Okay, you can change it if you must.” I was met with protest, “Nah, let’s hear the rest of the CD!” and “I can’t believe this is the same person who was in the dancehall the other night!”
“He is deep,” said my Jamaican friend in the back seat, who caught more of the lyrics. “Whoa,” he muttered–it was that exclamation between shock and utter approval. “Wicked!”
It just goes to show that a real band can really make or break an artist. I have high hopes for Sabbat and selfishly hope that I’ll be an integral part of his success.
“Heart Ah Joy” is a hard commodity to find but I suggest you email firstname.lastname@example.org to buy your own copy.
Various Artists, Reggae Star Time Vol. 1 [Village Roots Records, 2004]
Village Roots Records is off to a good start. The label, which was founded by Isiah Mentor in February 2002, enlisted Jack Scorpio, Witty, and Philip Smart to get started. Here we are in July 2004, and the label already has two offices (one in Portmore, Jamaica and one in Sayreville, New Jersey) and a hot new album with top international reggae artists.
The highlight on this album comes from the magnificent Tanya Stephens with her wonderful storytelling on “Three’s Company”: “I came to your wedding uninvited. Walked to the church and sat down inside it. I wanted to scream your name–let everyone feel my pain! When you said, ‘I do,” I died. And it was time for you to kiss the bride–through tears, I saw you lift her veil–you kissed her and my world turned pale. This was never part of the plan… me no think the two a we a go part–cause you know mi still a wok you, fling it up baby, when me buck you. She tied the knot but me stuck too, from now on that how it a be–we are the new three’s company!”
Other highlights come from Chrisinti, Vybz Kartel, George Nooks, Natural Black, Lukie D., and Sugar Minott, and M. Mentor, himself.
What makes an album like this so compelling is the rhytms on which the tracks are recorded. If you begin with bad rhythms, then–bad album. In this instance, tracks two through eight are on the same rhythm, which is very strong. Tracks nine to fifteen are on a different rhythm, which, in my opinion is the weakest link; and tracks sixteen to twenty-one are on yet another rhythm, which ends on a strong note.
I like the fact that this album isn’t glossy–there’s no half-naked woman on the cover to get you to look at it. Artists that don’t normally get a voice, like Knittie Kouchie, Pinchers, Mega Banton, Prestige, Chuck Fenda, and Musiah, appear on this album with the bigger names. Check it out!
[This CD can be purchased by clicking here.]
Various Artists, Tunda Klap [Renaissance/Greensleeves, 2004]
You might ask, “What in the world is she thinking?! A rhythm album going into a ‘most memorable’ category?!” And, yes, you’d have a point.
Greensleeves Records has been putting out a host of rhythm albums (Tunda Klap is number 48 in the series) and they are fun for the first go-around, but a little (no wait… very) monotonous after awhile.
But I know that if you’re like me, there are certain rhythms that just stand out: Stalag 17, Bookshelf, X-5 was a big one for me, Life, Jah Jah City, Trifecta… I even gravitated towards Log On and Masterpiece. So now we have Tunda Klap. And yes, if you could include your own audio interpretation of “Tunda Klap”, that’s what you get!
This rhythm is produced by the Renaissance Sound System Crew–Delano, Dre, and Michael get all the right artists on this riddim: Elephant Man, Ward 21, Vybz Kartel, Spragga Benz, Wayne Marshall, Bounty Killer, and Predator (of “Mad, sick, head no good” fame). Again, think TUNDA KLAP.
So, now the key is to embrace all the references to anacondas, tekking buddies, flinging it around, and women who can’t get enough… and you’ll be satisfied. Okay, joking aside, this is a very strong rhythm album and I listen to it often. It’s especially good if you need to create some adrenaline before a night out on the town.
Might I add that the surprising highlight for me was Daville’s track, “Gal Yuh A Murder.” His singing voice in contrast to all the deejaying was refreshing. Also honarable mention goes to Mr. Vegas’ track, and of course the ‘”classic” “Tekk” by Vybz Kartel.
P.S. What the heck is Capleton doing on this album?!
If you’re interested in submitting music for review, please send 2 copies to: Laura Gardner, Jahworks.org, PO Box 9207, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA.